Last week's massacre at a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi that left at least 72 people dead and nearly 60 missing, demonstrates the evolution of Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab into a global jihadi group, according to a terrorism expert.
In an appearance on VOA’s Press Conference USA, Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who led the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and investigated the 9-11 attacks, said the Nairobi assault was not surprising.
“They declared their intention to do so many times since the Kenyan government participated in the [African Union] mission in Somalia,” said Soufan, who is the CEO of the Soufan Group, an international strategic consultancy firm. “What we learned is that the global jihadi faction is dominant in al-Shabab.”
Al-Shabab has many factions despite sharing the same religion, said Soufan. Many are focused on Somalia and only want to operate there, he said.
He said that while the group lost territory in Somalia in recent years – notably Mogadishu and Kismayo – those setbacks “seem to have helped the jihadi faction of the organization.”
“That is very significant for global security,” he said. “Maybe All-Shabab as we know it, doesn't exist. Now, what we have is a faction of al-Shabab that seems to take control of the organization and revert back to the original modus operandi of terrorists: guerrilla warfare.”
Soufan added the group has links to al-Qaida, particularly with funding.
“Al-Shabab was able to generate a lot of money from taxation and operating the port of Kismayo,” he said, adding that when the group controlled Mogadishu and Kismayo, they were able to generate $35-40 million a year.
“Now, after they lost Mogadishu and Kismayo, it seems they are probably getting funding from the ‘gold chain’ that funds jihadi movements around the world,” he said.
The ‘gold chain’ is a term Soufan said was coined in 1997 in Afghanistan and is a mechanism for raising funds around the world and funneling the money to terrorist groups.